Regaining the Rainbow of Reading

As a kid, I liked to read everything and it was hard to leave a book in the store untouched. I was read to every night whether it be Narnia, Harry Potter, Lord of the Rings, or Brian Jaques Redwall books. When I got older I wanted annotated versions of the Brothers Grimm, Hans Christian Anderson, the Alice Books, even the Wizard of Oz. Things changed however when English class did not begin with, “In a hole in the ground there lived a Hobbit” but with a man who wants to drown a dog, a man, and a horse who die together, and my first introduction to The Outsiders.

Here in this class comic books and graphic novels were not literature, we had to suffer through McGee and Me to learn protagonist and antagonist, and then there is Flowers for Algernon…

For those of you who are hopefully fortunate not to read this book and relax with Captain Underpants here is how it goes. A man who is special needs meets a lab rat named Algernon who has been given a pill that makes him intelligent and functionally stable. Man takes a pill which helps him to become intelligent and sable only to learn the pill has a side effect that will kill both him and Algeron-THE END!

What a terrible book to read when you are in 6-7th grade and have to take meds to help you be stable on top of the D.A.R.E program that teaches that people who take pills are addicts who need help. Yet despite that book, I had a right to tell people that I have to take medication that helped me be the best person I could be. Sometimes I felt like a target by my teacher in Middle School who forced me to call my mother for not finishing assignments or saying that every book in the class was horrible out loud. When I got bullied before an assignment where I dressed like Violet from Series of Unfortunate Events I was punished instead of the girls who bullied me.

Instead of no book is safe from me the tables turned, no book I read felt like an escape or a journey but a hellscape like There Come Soft Rains by Ray Bradbury about a robot house that is so lonely it blows up because all the people died. The Crucible felt like a boxing ring between me and a girl who said I would burn in hell. She also said the same when we read Inherit the Wind, where I played Sarah Brady who lived all her life with a man who cared little about her and more about harassing an innocent science teacher who also had a wife. In particular, I felt no sympathy when Brady dies writing a letter that now sounds akin to a Trump Tweet.

High School was basically this, instead of a journey into critical thinking and ideas we scare them into capitalist with Animal Farm and 1984!

However, Animal Farm and 1984 are about Facisum and Plutocracy ruining and harming people and living things. Yet in the context at my High School, it was Socialism was bad because you get 1984. A book I did not want to finish because it scared me to the point I could not read anything yet my hero was Dr.Seuss who does have a book that every High Schooler should and must read called The Lorax. Yet still even reading a kid's book was not standard curriculum nor was Tezuka’s Pheonix, Art Spiegelman's Maus which is American Tail without the fluff, not even Joseph Campell or Tolkein was touched or talked about in my High School.

I had to learn and read about these people in my own spare time and was afraid of bringing them in because they had messages more hopeful and powerful than the dread of those two books. Yet I’m not the only one; some kids are made to read Atlas Shrugged and The Fountainhead which inspired Rapture in the game Bioshock. And Lord or the Flys is sturred into the pot to scare kids into Libertarianism.

Yet now kids know how dangerous Libertaianisum is because of the internet and their grandparent's Fox News, yet they are surrounded by books like Diary of a Wimpy Kid where Greg Heffley (a sociopathic bully) is to be rooted for despite his abusive and manipulative behavior towards special needs people. A kid who knows better about saying Dr.Seuss is racist or an evil-socialist would bring up his book The Sneetches which is about eugenics and the elitism that comes with it. He also wrote Horton Hears a Who after he saw the damage done to Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Dr.Seuss knew about the damage Ayn Raynds books did to everyday people and embodied it not just in the Onceler but in Dr.Terwilliker; an embodiment of the Red Scare, the horrors of fascism and toxic masculinity. He even before his movie The 5,000 Fingers of Dr.T did a documentary about American Neo-Nazis called Hilter Lives.

Dr. Seuss also wrote about war profiteering in The Butter Battle Book which is about two races the Yooks and Zooks fighting over butter and what to do with it.

Even Smaug from The Hobbit is an allegory for Brittan's imperialist wars and wartime propaganda that Tolkien was familiar with during the first world war.

“I kill where I wish and none dare resist.”

The Hobbit is a war refugee story and after the first world war and before the Third Riche in Germany there were many refugees and illegal immigrants who left because of an environment of mistrust and fear. Many people who helped house them felt like Bilbo Baggins when the Dwarfs enter his house and eat his food. Smaug is also an embodiment of industrial warfare; he flys like a bomber destroys everything with smoke and fire, and never stops his destruction. He’s also the reason why the Dwarfs do not get along with the Elves and only one man along with Bilbo knows Smaugs weakness from the black arrow which when described by Tolkien sounds like a weapon that could shoot down a bomber.

Even after Smaug dies there is still damage and conflicts with power and relationships and even more enemies like the White Orc’s army. To Tolkien, the word Orc does not refer a race of creatures but how these monsters treat each other and bully other people and races like the Goblins. They were elves that were deformed and tortured by other Orcs to become soldiers who pillage other people. He even wrote letters to his sons telling them to go fight the Orcs which are people who pillage, bully, and threaten others. The White Orc is also an allegory of the early rise of the Nazi party and Nazi eugenics.

Now that people are thinking deeply about problems in Young Adult literature like the Easterlings in Narnia, the Native Peoples in Neverland, and of course Greg Heffley’s bullying we should teach them what they can do with the material given. When I rewatched The 5,000 Fingers of Dr.T I ask questions not written in a textbook or given by a teacher but to myself. I also use Dr.Seuss’s other works to build off of these questions.

I wonder what crushed Terwillker as a musician if the fence is electrified did that mean his castle is a mental institution and does he hate children because of one little boy who discovered a flying piano and was erased from his family memories and was given a cruel and horrible name.

Pontonffel Pock, a young man who is ostracized because he can’t remember his mother and father or say their names as a curse, and lived in Glicklervile which reeks of fermenting pickles. His lack of remembering things does not help him at all in the factory and it breaks all the machinery. He lives in the worst house in the town alone until a group of fays who call themselves Do-Gooding Fairies have found the same piano but found a missing device that when Terwilliker built the piano as a young boy; a switch that would bring him home.

Pontonofell knows how to use the piano’s keys and coding because his father is Terwilliker and the first place he goes to is Groogen where there are happy people who sing happy songs. Because he does not know how the flying part works yet he’s considered an outlaw, along his journey he meets a woman who dances with her eyes for the Sultan, and when they break the piano together Pontonfell makes the greatest decision to end the child labor in Glickervile and start a family in Groogen where he apologies and rebuilds the very town he fumbled on. This is because despite his poor memory he has morals and a heart and his son will one day be smart enough and strong enough to beat Terwilliker in another world to keep him safe.

His mother’s eyes prevent him from falling into hypnotism, and he has the heart of curiosity and courage like his father and shares the same name with a servant who became king, his name is Bartholomew Collins. His last name makes sense because a semi-colon is not just the end of a sentence but also a beginning.

Writing and Reading classes are trapped in a storm of people who want fear but no thinking on how to conquer those fears with tools that are in the literature that we have to learn and break down, especially in science fiction and fantasy. Bowlderization of works makes things worse when we don’t understand the history, conflict, and context behind a work. Even history can’t be bowdlerized because bad things happen in the world and we can’t change the past.

This is why in Germany they use Mein Kampf as a textbook to show what should not happen or how not to think about the world because it’s destructive. Imagine if someone in Germany tried to bowdlerize Mein Kampf like people in America do to people like Henry Ford, General Robert E Lee, Walt Disney, Ronald Regan, Ron Hubbard, or even Ayn Rand; they would end up in jail for creating propaganda! Yet history books don’t tell kids that Mickey Mouse was made by Ub Iwerks and stolen by Walt Disney, or that the Fleischer Brothers created the first cartoons with audio soundtracks and rotoscoped Cab Calloway, or that Henrey Ford wrote anti-Semitic articles and forced schools to square dance, or about how Ayn Rand’s books created what we now see on Fox News every day, or that Ronald Regan compared making public schools more secular was akin to the Holocaust.

Fiction is a reflection of reality as seen by a child which is why writing is a tool of psychological healing and peace for children who deal with cruel realities every day.

Fredrick gets bitten for being cruel in Der Struwwelpeter

This is why many of the German fairy tales have violent scenarios with a violent punishment for the villain is because it gives children power; even the first comic book Der Struwwelpeter has cautionary and violent stories because Germany needed to cope with the horrors they saw in other industrialized countries like Brittan, France made Germany a target for hate when the book was written, and this anger that Germans felt when they were mocked like Struwwelpeter for being dirty, filthy, bumkins like Hanswurt began the Strum und Dram movement. Struwwelpeter became a cultural hero for many German children; for me, Struwwelpeter was my Grandmother Lill with curly blond hair, long nails, a cranky attitude, and a very thick German accent. She was brutally honest about people and things that were unpleasant and cruel. After she passed and my parents divorced and had to move twice from a big rental into an ugly Sears house with bad contractors; he would save my life and lift me out of darkness and anger,

“Don’t eber tink dat haus ist hasslich, at leist itst nut a Mulleimer…

“War’m bei so wutend right now, itz will get better…”

After a storm, the sun comes and makes a rainbow in the sky which is why Reading Rainbow is called that is because a book is a storm that has a rainbow at the end. Strum and Dram is Storm and Stress in English because both create positive solutions and change to things we don’t understand; storms are dark, wet, scary, and fearful and no one wants to have stress but they are necessary for learning our fears and overcoming them. How can we understand reading and writing if we are given books with no hope or no consequences for bad characters or bad things we see around us.

Hamlet is a tragedy but through Hamlet’s tragedy are themes of overcoming guilt, loss, and the fear of death. In the end, the King who marries Hamlet’s mother is poisoned, Hamlet’s actions towards Ophelia were meant to save her not harm her yet she is manipulated to where she drowns. The line at the end means Hamlet and Ophelia are happy in heaven because their conflicts have been resolved through their own madness and suffering that they faced together. I was introduced to Hamlet which was my greatest triumph of actually reading something without fear in a college English class. Ophelia’s death is what sets Hamlet from being depressed and woeful to choose to overcome his fear of what lies ahead realizing how far Palonius’s manipulation went and meant to closet her from him.

Just like in Star Wars Yoda’s death helps Luke forgive his father and save him from Palpatine. This is because Luke is a representation of the cycle of bliss being born, living, dying, and being reborn to help people like Ray discover their bliss. A reader should not fear their bliss they must follow it which is why the hero’s journey is a cycle of finding and regaining the rainbows that were taken from many people who lost joy in reading because of books and curriculum that put fear over thinking clearly and thoughtfully about literature and what it does.

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Tuba player, creator of Struwwelkinder and The Flying Circus Orchestra

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Christina Bishop

Christina Bishop

Tuba player, creator of Struwwelkinder and The Flying Circus Orchestra

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